A classical dancer, playback singer and a filmmaker — there is a lot more to Aishwaryaa Dhanush than being a star kid and a celebrity-wife.
Aishwaryaa was recently appointed as the United Nations Women’s Advocate for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for the South of India. She is also an author-in-the making, and is writing a memoir sharing her experiences of growing up as a star child with her upcoming book ‘Standing on an Apple Box.’
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Aishwaryaa reflects on her childhood, her family, films, book and her new role as an advocate for gender equality.
You have been chosen as UN Women’s advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment for the South of India. What does this role entail?
The UN wanted to spread some awareness about their work in the South. Mostly, they have been concentrating on the North. But there are issues which are affecting the South also. I think they needed someone whose voice will be heard and could change people’s perception towards gender roles. I am elated that they have placed their faith in me and it’s a huge responsibility and there’s a lot that we need to achieve.
What is your primary focus on?
You cannot really put your finger on one problem and say, we will start with this or this is important. When it comes to gender inequality, you cannot really say that infanticide is more important that honour killing. So we need to treat everything with equal importance. No change can happen overnight. It has to be a collective effort.
As someone from the Tamil film industry, have you experienced any gender-bias as a woman filmmaker?
Yes, my industry is one of the most biased places of work. It’s very unfortunate that there’s a lot of inequality with regard to technicians especially. But the scene is much better compared to what it was a decade ago. It would have been impossible for a female director to make two films at that time. But here I am, for example.
I have directed two films and I am working on the third one, which should be on floors next year. Today there are cinematographers, editors and very powerful lyricists who are all women. We should have a positive take on it. We are here to stay.
Tell us about the book you’re writing. It’s like a memoir? ‘Standing on an Apple Box’ is a curious title.
I wouldn’t want to give out too much because the first chapter itself is about the title. It would say why it's titled ‘Standing on an Apple Box'. We wanted something quirky because it goes with my personality and there should be something intriguing when somebody hears it.
How did the idea of writing a book come about?
I have a habit of penning down my thoughts. Once, when I ran it by a friend, she suggested that I try publishing them. I was like who’s going to read stuff like this. But I sent it and Harper loved it and that excited me and I thought I could give it a shot.
What can the readers expect from the book?
I am not looking for someone to say that it’s well-written. It’s more like reading out of a diary. I’m not trying hard to make it sound good or using extra vocabulary to make it sound flamboyant. I think it’s going to be something people can relate to because there are lots of myths about celebrity kids and how they are brought up.
There are lots of misunderstood notions about what we go through, how we live our life and what we like and things like that. This is just about clearing the air and making them realise our lives are pretty simple.
I told my publishing house that I don’t want to do too much of re-writing and re-editing because the whole thing gets diluted. It’s just a simple, straight from the heart, very matter-of fact account of our lives.
How has it been growing up with Soundarya? Does she help with the book?
No, I want to keep its originality intact. Being sisters, we kind of think alike and our outlook is very similar. We do what general sisters do — we fight over clothes because we are the same size. I will be covering stuff like how our lives were, how close we were and what did we do during our day to day life. People sometimes even wonder what we eat, so it’s interesting to share such details which people want to know, about you.
How did your mom, Latha Rajinikanth, respond to the idea of you writing a book?
She was very excited when I told her about the book. She writes a lot, she used to write a lot of poetry, when I was a kid. I think I got my writing from her. She’s been a very, very supportive mom because when we are busy and doing other things, somebody needs to take care of our kids.
Most of the time, it’s only with your mother that you can take the liberty of screaming at her when something goes wrong. And yet, we know for a fact that she’s going to be taking care of the kids much better than us. She’s always wanted me and my sister to be independent in life. She’s done a lot with her life and that’s what has inspired me to be the woman that I am today.
How do you look back at your childhood?
Obviously it wasn’t normal. But not everyone gets everything. Sometimes we feel things could have been different, but we always have to count our blessings. So I am really not going to think about how I am not able to walk on the road or that I cannot take my kids out on the street. These are small things that we miss, yes, but we kind of make up for it when we travel abroad. I really don’t have much to complain about.
Bollywood celebrity Twinkle Khanna too had published her book ‘Mrs Funnybones,’ last year. Have you read it, and is your book similar?
Yes, I am a huge fan of her writing. She’s so innately quirky and humorous. I think when she reads my book (I would love her to read it,) she may be able to relate with it.
How did Dhanush and Rajini sir react when you told them about your book?
Dhanush was very surprised because he had never thought I would ever write a book at any point. But dad always knew that I used to write when I was in school and my favourite subject was English. I have told him that he’s not going to read any of the drafts. He’s very curious to know what is going to be there in it. You see, my mom and sister are a little weak on the reading part, they don’t enjoy it much. But me, Dhanush and dad read a lot.
Soundarya has said your book has good potential to be made into a film. Do you think it’s a possibility?
It wouldn’t be difficult or impossible because it has a lot of incidents that could lend itself to a film. If something interesting comes up, why not? Let the book come out and let’s figure it out.
When is the launch planned?
In December, closer to dad’s birthday.
How is the family taking the success of Kabali?
I think we are all happy and elated about how things have gone with Kabali. We find ourselves very blessed and we have lot of gratitude to the fans and well-wishers.
About the next Pa Ranjith-Rajinikanth project to be produced by Dhanush?
We are all happy with how things have come about. Right now we have a lot to deliver and to prove ourselves. So we have to concentrate on that. Everything is at a very preliminary stage. Hopefully everything will fall in place soon and it’ll be very exciting.